Over the past decade, Oklahoma State has reached a national level of prominence thanks to its budding football program. As early adopters of the offensive revolution that has taken college football by storm in recent years, the Cowboys captivated and captured fans across the country with their thrilling style of play. For a program that had previously been hidden in the shadows of their interstate rivals, this rise to the forefront has brought with it a renewed sense of pride in the university and a major boost in brand recognition.
Tune into an Oklahoma State game on any given Saturday and you're likely to see a team operating one of the country's premier offenses. There's a diversity within the Cowboys' scheme that lends itself to every kind of football fan; there's the Air Raid for the pass happy observers, the read option elements and power run game out of the pistol for the old school fans and a tempo that blends the conceptual era of the game with the modern rebirth of fast paced play. And after just a season under Glenn Spencer's tutelage, it appears as if the days of back-and-forth shootouts may be in the rearview mirror, because the Cowboys' defense is finally a formidable force.
Oklahoma State has undergone a complete facelift over the past 10 years and though national powerhouse may be a bit too strong of a description, the program is certainly on the cusp of becoming a consistent national threat. But, ironically, the man that is responsible for much of their new identity, the architect of the Pokes' innovative redesign, is someone that always appears as if he's heading some downtrodden program, his eyes hidden behind shades without ever cracking a smile week-in-and-week-out. He's stoic, unmoved by ups-or-downs, and puts on an even blander face for the media. For someone that has injected some life, vigor and enjoyment back into Cowboy football, he surely never shows it.
Try this one on for size: A former college QB turned coach returns to his Alma mater, develops a pioneering offensive system that helps land a quarterback with the Cleveland Browns and takes the nation by storm. He's got sex appeal, he's young, he's innovative and he's already lifted his former school to new heights simply by being accessible and excited to grow his program.
It should, because I can't even count how many times we've seen or heard Kliff Kingsbury pimping Texas Tech over the past year. As Kingsbury works his way into the nation's collective conscience, and, as a result, into the living rooms of recruits that would have never considered Texas Tech previously, all I can think about is why Gundy never took advantage of this same opportunity.
And it's not as if Gundy subconsciously missed out on his window, it appears as if he's totally averse to such notoriety and seems totally perturbed by the day-to-day responsibilities that come with being a head coach that don't involve football. Kingsbury comes off as a personable and welcoming figure, someone you'd want to hang out and watch a game with. Gundy is outwardly defiant while occupying a position that generally requires at least a touch of humanity.
What's interesting is that Gundy doesn't appear to act in the same manner internally, and I suppose he wouldn't be very successful if he did. Like Kingsbury, his dance moves have become legendary within the lockeroom and a national phenomena on social media. The difference is that we got a blurry cell phone video of Gundy's impromptu breakdown whereas we got a nice, clean sky shot of Kingsbury's conceived post-practice dance-off. One saw the opportunity for his program to make waves while forming a stronger bond with his players, the other was simply having some private fun.
Some folks may appreciate Gundy's introvert attitude when it comes to his media obligations. Fans in San Antonio have certainly grown accustomed to Gregg Popovich's press conference schtick, and we know for sure that Pop is an affable, touching guy when he's in the company of his players. In the macro, shunning the media likely has no actual effect on the successes or failures of the program.
But it still seems so odd for Gundy to be so withholding publicly. As sports fans, we've seen it before with Popovich and Bill Belicheck, but not every fan wants their team or school to operate like the Spurs or Patriots. More often than not, more accessibility is a good thing for everybody within and around the program. So why does Gundy's program resemble a dictatorship when it comes to the media?
Going back to that infamous press conference in 2007, which was Gundy's first appearance in the national spotlight as the head coach at OSU, I wonder if his spat with the Oklahoman over Jenni Carlson's Bobby Reid story has helped shape his outward actions since then. Could the "I'm a man, I'm 40!" rant have soured Gundy so much on the media that he's retreated back into his shell for good, costing us a chance to truly get to know both himself and his players, the people that we sacrifice both our money and our emotions to support?
After everything he's done, Gundy has likely cemented himself as a savior of the Oklahoma State football program and as one of the school's most legendary coaches. Were he more open to the media, there's no telling how much deeper a connection the fan base would have with him, and that only means positive things for the program as a whole. But now we've reached a point with Gundy where he won't let you talk to his quarterbacks if he doesn't want you to and where all of the media coverage around the program seems selective and steered.
Here's what we know about Cowboy football: Mike Gundy has done a masterful job of growing Oklahoma State into a respected program nation-wide. There's not a trusted college football analyst in the country that wouldn't praise the work Gundy has done at his Alma mater when asked and there's no denying that we're in the middle of the best prolonged stretch of football in the program's history. We know that program gains more and more acclaim with each passing season and that the Pokes are a forced to be reckoned with every Saturday come Fall.
But there is still so much that we don't know, and it all starts with Gundy. Hiding behind his tinted shades, Gundy is purposely vague and indistinct, determined to build a wall around himself and his program. And for someone that holds a key to a golden era at Oklahoma State in the pocket of his black hoodie, I can only wonder why.